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DFC Report: Opiate Abuse In Vermont Getting Worse

Opiate abuse in Vermont is getting out of hand. In the last two years, there have been heightened efforts aimed at addressing opiate abuse problems in the state. However, there is still much to be done especially according to a report released by the Department for Children and Families. The report shows that abuse of opiates is still a hard nut to crack and has consequently led to an increase in child protection cases.

Even as the state is still sourcing ways to address the increasing child custody cases, opiate abuse has remained a key contributing factor in most child abuse and neglect cases in Vermont. Most drug users are not aware of the danger they expose their children to when they use drugs in their presence while still undertaking the custody of the children. Drugs are known to alter the normal functioning of the brain thereby hindering drug abusers from being able to properly take care of their children. The drug needs of the abusers precede the needs of the children and thus children become neglected.

In 2014 alone, the DCF handled over 5,846 new custody cases; a figure that represents a 27 percent increase since 2010. In about a third of these cases, drug abuse was a key factor. Commissioner Ken Schatz of the DFC expressed his concerns on the need of urgent action to change the growing trend of child custody cases due to substance abuse. Further increases of these cases are likely to cripple the operations of the DFC as most of the department’s resources will be stretched beyond limit.

Even with an additional 18 social workers and better substance abuse screening, substance abuse related custody cases are at an all-time high. What’s worse is that the department has recorded a worrying trend of a 68 percent child custody case increase of children below the age of 6. Opiate abuse has widely been attributed as the main cause of this increase. The governor expects that the changes in the new child protection laws he signed last month may cause more problems by increasing child custody caseload. Particularly, a new child abuse definition touches on substance abuse in homes is likely to cause a massive increase in child custody cases.

Even though most substance abusers clean up after being incarcerated and relapsing, they eventually have to forfeit their parental rights for the wellbeing of their children. This is not always easy especially because some drug users think that they are capable of taking care of their children even when they are incapable of exercising their parental rights. According to the DCF, the growing trend of the majority of substance abusers being unable to clean up their behaviors is putting the state’s vulnerable population at risk. For substance abusers who are lucky enough to overcome their addictions, they are not only able to help other addicts to work towards full recovery but also foster relationships with their children whose custodial rights they had forfeited.


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